Saturday, November 25, 2006

Special Thanks...

You may note the improvements to the blog today - thanks to for the daily Greek Bible reading, and for the snazzy parsing aid below. For those of us who know only barely enough to get us into real exegetical trouble, thanks Z for the help!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

I'm Thankful for...

We’re getting ready for the holiday tomorrow, and I am – of course – thankful. Maybe you’re like me and in thinking about Thanksgiving, you blow quickly by the “things” you’re thankful for and dwell on the “people”… and for me, there are many, many people for whom I’m thankful.

Beyond the Lord Himself, where would I start? I could tell you about my impossibly great, beautiful, best-friend, love-of-my-life wife. I could tell you about each of my kids – each one so different, and such an incredible joy. I could tell you about my family members (who all mean so much to me), friends (who I don’t deserve), neighbors and community. I could tell you about people who, from public ministry of the Word through preaching or writing have been a tremendous encouragement to me.

I don’t know. Each one deserves my full attention, and words are definitely inadequate to say how grateful I am. I wish I could tell you about each one of these people. But let me tell you now about just one.

She was raised in difficult circumstances, a child of the depression and daughter of an immigrant. Even though she moved around when she was young, she made big impressions on people… like the world-class author/theologian in her neighborhood. He’s trendy now, but when she was little, he was just her pastor and she wormed her way into his introverted heart, treated almost like his own family. Like many in her day, she was also thrust early in life into responsibility, a character trait that has followed her all of her life. After an early and painful disappointment in a relationship, she met the love of her life as a young woman. Running hard against popular convention, the two of them set off together on a life filled with highs and lows, happiness and pain, successes and – well, ok, some failures too.

Nothing ever seemed to come easy… one step forward, two steps back sometimes. I wasn’t the most discerning observer for much of the time I’ve known her, but while I knew life was hard, I never really “felt” it from her. Her husband was a “faith” guy – I think if there’s a spiritual gift of faith, a Holy Spirit given ability to believe God to an unusual degree, he had that. But she lived it! “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Sometimes I thought he even saw the good ahead, the pending calm in the current storm, but she followed out of faith. Even through tears… Not by denying the problem, but living life in spite of the problem.

I watched, I saw. And I learned.

OK, I sound maudlin now! It wasn’t all difficulty. There was happiness, great times, trips, laughter… how much I love hearing her laugh! Even as a very young boy, I remember how much fun it was to wash windows with her on a bright, sunny fall day – it felt to me like the world was right, and good.

She’s got quick wit, the life of the party… that’s her to a tee. She’s an “entertainer” in the fullest and best sense of the word. Hospitality had a face for me… her face. Gracious, welcoming, warm, inviting, and those have been great traits to see in a world that generally has little time for such things. Even today, she thinks of ways to befriend and welcome her neighbors, looking for ways to brighten other people’s lives.

She’s also passionate about life, and principled in her positions on things… appropriately self-confident and strong. Willing to say the tough things, but an example of grace and truth. In our little sub-culture, many are more than a little uncomfortable with the “truth” part of that, but I love the gleam in her eye when she points out the obvious thing that everybody’s thinking, but nobody has the guts to say.

But more than all that, she’s compassionate and generous – almost to a fault. She has always given… words like involved, concerned, charitable, generous… that’s her. She’d literally give away anything she had to meet a need. She’s kind, thoughtful and interested in people personally without being intrusive… always quick to say that she’s praying for you. Your spouse. Your kids. Your job. Your concerns. (You get the picture!) But she actually does pray, just like she says. This isn’t the posting for a rant on the current state of the evangelical movement, but just to say it, we could stand more of that.

Today, her life is slower than it used to be. Lonelier than it used to be… her husband is gone, her kids are busy, busy, busy. Life has thrown some very hard knocks her way. But in my eyes, she’s still very much the young girl in her 20’s with a life full of promise. The best really is yet to come… and I still see the hope in her eyes as she follows our Lord – as she always has.

Difficulty, extra responsibility, challenge… they’ve always been a part of her life. But for people like me, she’s modeled success and victory. She’s shown me what Paul meant when he said “… we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10)

No wonder a life like that shows “the surpassing power that belongs to God and not to us” (vs. 7).

So today, like everyday, I’m thankful. I’m thankful for a woman who has been such a godly model to me, such an encouragement to me, such an example to me. Hopefully when I grow up, I’ll model her best traits as well.

I’m thankful for my Mom.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Happy Anniversary!

Ok, so I'm two days late! October 31 - the anniversary we all should remember.

After all, how many events so completely shook the world?

489 years ago, on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted his small objections to the religious system of the day - a challenge to debate - on the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany. How could he have known that but within the week, copies of his theses would be discussed throughout the surrounding regions; and within a decade, Europe itself would be shaken by his simple act. The start of the revolution that would become the protestant reformation, and the end of the tyranny of oppression from a corrupt Roman church which had lost its authenticity.

But what started Martin Luther?

As is widely know, Luther - disheartened, depressed and confused, made his way one day to the Scala Sancta in Rome, the sacred stairs upon which Jesus had been judged by Pilate. They were brought from Jerusalem by the mother of Constantine the Great. Today, as in LutherĂ‚’s day, you can see the pilgrims going up those stairs on their knees. Luther was diligently doing that when there began to be heard in his mind the words he had read in Romans 1: "For therein is the righteousness of God revealed . . . For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men" (vv. 17-18 KJV). Luther trembled when he read that. But now the rest of that verse began to be heard in his heart and mind. "The just (righteous) shall live by faith."

As this truth dawned on him - it gripped him - echoing louder and louder until it rang out the old and in the truth of the doctrine of Grace through Faith alone - and he sprang to his feet and left that place. A reformation began in his heart, which spread to the known world, and for which we remain the happy beneficiaries.

It's this truth that gives me great comfort these days... and there are three reasons why.

First, this thought - first from the Old Testament (Habakkuk 2:4) is quoted 3 times in the New Testament, and each time with an emphasis on a different part of this 3-part phrase:

1. In Romans 1:16, the emphasis is on "the just (righteous)":

"I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith.'"

2. In Galatians 3:10-12, the emphasis is on "shall live":

"All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.' Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, 'The righteous will live by faith.' The law is not based
on faith; on the contrary, 'The man who does these things will live by them.'"

3. In Hebrews 10:36-39, the emphasis is on "by faith":

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while, 'He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.' But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.

No wonder this truth was transforming to Luther! How powerfully simple, yet true - devastating to the entire way that the world tells us to live our lives! Here's what I mean (and what I'm trying to learn):

The Just...

This verse tells me that if I want to be in the right place in life - with God - I must live by faith. Romans 1 is clear about the fact that I'm not, God is and He's willing to change me to the right way of living - by faith! I don't have to get better, the good news is that God Himself transforms me into what I should be, what I was created to be, when I believe! Not when I try harder, not when I work my fingers to the bone, but when I believe! No wonder they call it good news!

The Bible is very clear about this. "...And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe (a) that he exists and (b) that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." (Hebrews 11:6, emphasis added) So through faith - believing God (as my Dad used to say, not just believing in God, but believing Him) - we are actually treated as if we are righteous!

I lay awake at night knowing my shortcomings, my failure... but through a living by faith, all of that is washed away, and I'm made right before God. Wow!

Shall live...

Equally powerful is that thought that faith is the lifeblood of a righteous man. I've been reading about the reformers - think about Martin Luther: He didn't know what he was getting into. If it hadn't been for the fairly recent invention of the printing press, his challenge to debate might have been quickly forgotten. He certainly wasn't out to change Western Civilization! But quickly he found himself in a position where, unless he renounced his views, he was subject to civil, economic, political, vocational - hey, even eternal - punishment from the view of his world system. He found himself in conflict with the mon0lithic power of that day, and refused to change, saying "...Here I stand, I can do no other. God help me." How??

Faith gives life to righteous men. This is what John meant when he said in 1 John:
"...for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith."

If I want to do more than exist... if I want to overcome - to really live, faith is the path I follow. It's not by my effort, but my stamina, by my courage, by my will... it's by turning myself over to the One who "exists and who rewards those who earnestly seek Him". Is that all? Yes, that's all! It's enough to move any mountain... even the ones I spend my life trying to move in my own strength. But righteous ones - the ones walking with God - don't feel that stress... they live by faith. And real faith, by the way isn't what you say, or even what you believe... it's what you live.

The testimony of Scripture is plain and clear. People who did this "overcame" life - even when in outward appearances they seemed like failures. They were the ones, like Joeseph, who looks at a lifetime of hardship and injustice, and talking to the very ones who inflicted the pain said " intended to harm me, but God intended it for good (!)..." Can something so... insignificant - intangible - as faith make a difference? Yes! It makes all the difference... it's life! The words of the old hymn are true:

"Faith is the victory, faith is the victory. Oh, glorious victory that overcomes the world."

"... By Faith" - One last thought:

The book of Hebrews (ok, the Bible!) announces a dire warning for those who turn back - who fail to keep going... what would it mean to "shrink back and be destroyed"?

All I know is that God says "He has no pleasure" in such people. Just men live by faith. They believe, and that belief has logical consequences. If I said that "I believed that my home was on fire, but stayed inside and played video games, I would either be lying about my belief or insane! If you believe something, you act on it! Crazy, religiousity-churchism today will say that you can believe, but not live like it... that's - well, stupid. No, you can't. If you believe something, you act on it. If you don't act in a manner consistent with what you say, you don't believe what you're saying. It's just that simple.

We live in a society where almost everyone "believes in God". So what?? The demons believe, and they tremble. But righteous people, they live "by faith" - they don't just accept the historical facts about Jesus, they hear His words and believe them! And they act on them because they believe!

Jesus was very clear about this too. You can't say that you're a Christian if you do not obey the teachings of Jesus. If you think otherwise, you disagree with the clear teaching of the Bible:

Jesus said "... the sheep follow him, for they know his voice." (John 10:3) or John's blunt words in 1 John 2:4-6:

"Whoever says 'I know him' but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in Him: whoever says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. "

I'm not saying that you have to be perfect, but I am saying that belief has logical consequences. And righteous people live by what they believe - by faith in Jesus - by believing what He said was really, honestly true.

Well, that's a mouthful for today. I'm seeking to be that kind of person... a righteous person - who lives, really lives - by faith.

Want to join me? :) "The just ... shall live ... by faith."